Walking at night with the kids to meet their father and a friend for dinner, I notice the bike slowing down. The guy stays in the bike lane, but he is going so slowly I am wondering how he can keep the bicycle upright. He lingers just a bit behind us, but I can tell he is listening to our conversation. We are talking about all kinds of crazy plans, but mostly Lucas wants to know about the buying of things. If we were rich, he always asks, would you buy me everything I ask for, everything I want? He always hopes that the only thing standing between him and what he thinks of as perfection is only some monetary problem. Nope, I always say. Even if I had all the money in the world I would never buy you everything you want. He understands, but this doesn’t stop him from asking. The cyclist is still behind us a bit, and he is still listening. He pulls the bike up onto the sidewalk and starts to push it. “What is that guy doing?” Lucas asks me. “I’m not sure,” I tell him, but I am pretty sure the guy is listening to us. Maybe he can speak a little English, maybe not. Maybe he just likes walking with us and staring at the kids.
“Helllooooo!” the guys finally yells at us, and we answer him. The kids are used to random people greeting them with a long drawn out version of the only word they probably know in English. This guy is different, though. He pulls the bike up beside us and tries to start a conversation. “Excuse me,” he begins, “Can you give me directions to Longyang Road?” Lucas looks at me with a perplexed expression. Why would a Chinese person ask his mother for directions? In China? The other children also seem confused. Doesn’t this person see that we are not Chinese? Doesn’t he know that he should ask someone else for directions? He smiles and I smile back. I have a vague idea about where he needs to go but I know he doesn’t need directions. He wants to practice his English. I tell him that I think the road is straight ahead but I am not sure which direction it runs. “Do I turn left or right?” he asks me. “I am not sure,” I say and we all continue walking together.
“Mom,” Lucas whispers, “Why is that guys still walking with us?” “I think he wants to talk to us,” I say. “Where are you from?” the cyclist asks me and I answer him in Mandarin. This is one of the three things I can say and I am excited to be able to use it in a conversation. If he is impressed, he hides it very well. “Are you a teacher?” he asks. “Yes!” I say and once again try my Chinese. I can say that I am an English teacher! I know how to say that! But he is not happy with this. “Your Chinese is very good,” he tells me dismissively while waving his hand in the air. The kids snort and roll their eyes. My Chinese is far from good. “Let’s talk in English instead!” our new friend urges me. When we reach the intersection he points to the road sign. There is the street. He needs to turn left. “Ah!” he exclaims. “I must turn left! Now I can find my way home! Thank you! Thank you!” We separate and he calls after us, “Goodbye! Goodbye!”
“Mom, he wasn’t really lost,” Lucas informs me once the man is gone. I smile and admit the truth. “Yeah. I know.”